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PBS Hawai‘i airs documentary on isle activist

  • COURTESY ED GREEDY

    Kanalu Young, center, took part in the Jan. 17, 1993, ‘Onipa‘a march in Honolulu, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian kingdom’s overthrow.

A half-hour documentary on the late University of Hawaii professor Kanalu Young will premiere at 8 p.m. Thursday on PBS Hawai‘i. “Ku Kanaka/Stand Tall” describes how Young inspired others with his courage, activism and passion for Hawaiian language, history and culture.

At the age of 15, a diving accident at Cromwell’s Beach near Diamond Head left Young paralyzed from the neck down with limited use of his hands and arms. He went on to earn a doctorate in Pacific island history and taught at UH Manoa. Outside of class, Young participated in demonstrations and was on the front line of the 1993 ‘Onipa‘a march in Honolulu commemorating the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Filmmaker Marlene Booth, who co-produced the documentary “Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i” with Young shortly before he died in 2008 at age 54, called him “both a gentleman and a warrior.” She believes Young’s personal experience with trauma gave him insight into the Hawaiian community’s experiences.

“I think he felt that the Hawaiian movement gained strength by acknowledging trauma, acknowledging loss and moving forward to recovery,” Booth said in a news release. “I think he felt that understanding history, re-asserting language and publicly celebrating culture was really very important to cultural and national renewal.

“In these times, I think he would say that there is strength in knowing who you are and knowing the various parts of yourself, especially for Native Hawaiians,” she continued. “I think about him all the time and what he would be making of our times now. And I think he would say, ‘No give up.’”

A live discussion about Young and his legacy will follow on “Insights” at 8:30 p.m.

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